Published: August 15, 2012
College volleyball recruiters are falling over themselves to land Haleigh Washington.
For now, she has landed in Doherty’s lap.
The Spartans opened practice this week with the services of the 6-foot-4 junior phenom, a member of the U.S. junior national team who can jump and touch as high as 10-foot-8 — about 3 or 4 inches higher than recent area standouts Morgan Broekhuis and Taylor Simpson for some context.
“We were all going crazy,” said senior setter Kiara McKibben of hearing Washington would attend Doherty. “We were so excited.”
Washington and her family moved to Colorado Springs this summer from Idaho Springs when her mother, Danielle, accepted a job at Discovery Canyon teaching Spanish.
Washington — an outgoing, personable breath of fresh air — said volleyball played a minor role in choosing Doherty over Cheyenne Mountain and Lewis-Palmer in what was a sort of practice run for her college selection. That seemed like a tall tale at first, considering several of her club teammates (McKibben as well as sisters Cierra and Gabby Simpson) play for the Spartans, but then she started talking.
She talked about her classes, including AP U.S. history, AP language & composition and AP calculus. (“I heard Doherty has really good teachers,” she said.) She talked about her disdain for a block schedule, which she wanted to escape (“An hour and a half of AP calculus? Nobody can take that. Nobody.”). And she talked about her true goal in high school (“I can dunk a tennis ball and I almost dunk a volleyball, but I can’t quite get a basketball. It’s so embarrassing. Before I graduate, I need to dunk a basketball.”).
She talked and talked, just as you’d expect from a wide-eyed teenager going from a graduating class of 51 to one 10 times larger. She has already mapped out her classes so she doesn’t get lost in the giant building and she cringed at the inconvenience of missing the first five days of school when she’ll be in Nicaragua with the U.S. junior volleyball team next week.
Factor in all this with the fact that she’s already “98 percent” sure she’ll commit to Penn State, so it’s not like she needed a quality 5A program like Doherty to boost her résumé.
This really seemed to be a case of a student-athlete making a choice for reasons that included — but weren’t strictly confined to — sports.
“We’ve been waiting to get off the mountain for a while,” said Washington, who grew up in Idaho Springs, as did her mother.
For the Spartans, it was a matter of the rich getting richer.
“I didn’t really believe it at first,” said second-year coach Tara Hittle, herself a former Gatorade state Player of the Year and a state champion at Doherty. “There’s a lot that people have to do when they move and switch schools and all that. I was just like, ‘If she comes, great; if she doesn’t, that’s fine too. We’re going to have a successful season either way.’”
The Spartans went 17-9 last year and return their core.
McKibben has already committed to San Francisco and fellow senior Cierra Simpson has given her pledge to Texas-San Antonio. Both are Division I programs.
Junior Gabby Simpson has her choices narrowed down to Arizona State, Colorado State, Kansas and San Diego.
It doesn’t hurt that Hittle, who played at Hawaii, has connections throughout college volleyball, but she credits all recruiting results to the talent on the floor.
The starting lineup will feature players who stand 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 and 5-11 — enough to make most boys’ basketball teams envious.
Hittle, 26, welcomes the pressure of shepherding such a talented team. She said she took many lessons from her first season and is learning as she goes.
This team could be just as good as the Doherty squad of two years that reached the 5A semifinals.
“I think we’re not as good, but we can be,” said Gabby Simpson, a freshman on that team. “We can get there.
“I think we have a chance to win state.”
If they do, expect the city’s highest-profile move-in of the season to play a key role.